“…We are standing up to be heard, to tell our truths unapologetically and to call out injustices against us. For too long this has been kept under wraps. That can only be a good thing…”
Journalist and Broadcaster Marverine Cole has been on a journey since completing her production about the issues surrounding black women and the mental health sector. She found some new things about her own wellness and the need for self-care in the radio-documentary Black Girls Don’t Cry.
Mental health and wellbeing as far as black women are concerned has been kept under wraps. Our inaugural Festival attempted to investigate how this was happening on one of our panel discussions. However, studies are now unveiling data that documents rise in the rates of self-harm amongst black women and a disproportionate number of black people in mental health services. These were some of the aspects of the issue which Marverine encountered as she started this project and she lets us in just before the broadcast’s airing on Friday 20th July.
Marverine Cole: “The documentary highlights research but revolves mainly around Jay (33) and Jade (39), their experiences of treatment and institutionalisation. I hope it’s the start of a further exploration. I’d seen the Adult Morbidity Survey of England and Wales which stated that black women are more prone to common mental disorders, and I started from there.”
“Hearing the true stories of my two case studies – both of whom I ‘know’ from social media was more shocking. You see people on social media, but to actually hear what they’ve endured, in their own words, is something completely different. I didn’t know what to expect from the group session I visited in London for the documentary. The session is deliberately not marketed as group therapy, and the clinical psychologist who runs it is very clear about that. I enjoyed being surrounded by wonderful people who needed an open and safe forum to address what they go through on a daily basis, which affects their wellbeing.”
Women of The Lens: We’ve all seen ‘her’; the sassy black chic with scathing clap-backs; the matronly black woman who mothers the entire office she works in, dishing out ‘honey-chile’, self-care homilies to her colleagues; the hard-faced, I-take-no-mess-ball-breaking-boss who is the designated cleanup woman…anything that goes wrong, she’ll make it right. These persistent images of black women, with little else in-between, serves up the idea that black women don’t have their own needs and any that they do doesn’t need much attention. Marverine added;
MC: “Stereotypes in media and in society about us perpetuate myths of black women being a ‘strong’, ‘sassy’, ‘no-nonsense’ etc. my documentary tackles this from the off. Those stereotypes then ensure that black women are never seen as fragile or emotional. And when we are our tears are ignored, or brushed off as insignificant. It’s no wonder that we retreat to ‘handle’ things alone. Cultural stigma stops us from speaking up. We remain silent and therefore if we are silent, no one knows our stories and our pain. The pressures build and we become mentally ill. As a result, those who are there to treat us tend to misunderstand, mishear us and mistreat us. We are left out of conversations because everyone thinks we are ok. Of course, everyone’s mental health journey is unique, but anecdotally many people have messaged me with similar experiences.”
WOTL: Could you say that black women are complicit in their ill-treatment and being overlooked when needs arise? Too often black women are wedded to suffering and sacrifice to the detriment of their own well being.
“Times are changing though now in that there is a bravery and an honesty amongst black women now that excites me. Social media and technology have enabled that.”
MC: “…Twenty years ago I don’t think this documentary would have been commissioned. I perhaps would have suggested it but commissioners would have felt a story focusing on a black woman’s experience was too niche and there’d be no audience or appetite for it. That now is definitely not the case.”
WOTL: Speaking of commissioners and industry intricacies Marverine explains to us some of the challenges she faced as she went about making Black Girls Don’t Cry.
MC: “Making the documentary was more emotionally challenging than it was technically. I produced it, so I collected of all of the interviews, chose my contributor clips and constructed the narrative myself. I used a ZOOM H5 (hand-held digital recorder) for my recordings, and I draft edited on Audacity (digital audio editor software) before editors at Made in Manchester constructed a full, clean broadcast edit. The only major challenge was to make it fit the 30-minute slot – it could have been a one-hour programme if I’d had my way! I made this with Made In Manchester Productions, which is a brilliant indie radio company. I’ve been working with them on documentaries for at least seven years now and they’ve been making documentaries for the BBC for 15 years.
WOTL: Marverine picked up her media interest through her family as a child. She was inspired by some of our television news icons.
MC: “…I read newspapers and watched the news with my mum from a very young age. The Coles were always a news and current affairs family in that sense. Seeing Moira Stewart and Sir Trevor McDonald on television inspired me. Representation matters, and has a deep inspirational impact on people. Many of my mentees say they wanted to get into Journalism after seeing me as a Newsreader on Sky News.
WOTL: Her career is expansive and Marverine has grown as a Journalist. She has some special moments in her career which she remembers fondly.
MC: “Back in 2008 I uncovered BBC archive footage of Malcolm X visiting Smethwick in the West Midlands. I think it was the first time it’d been aired since he visited. The awards I’ve won for my work. Becoming a newsreader at Sky News; for a working-class girl, the only daughter of a single mum from Birmingham, that’s an achievement. In the last 40 years, only nine women of African-Caribbean heritage have read the news for the top UK networks for main 30-minute bulletins or national/international rolling news. Nine! So I am proud of that.
WOTL: In making Black Girls Don’t Cry, Marverine wasn’t going to come away after completion without some of its content impacting upon her. It was almost inevitable. Was there anything, which was brought to the fore for her personally?
MC: “…That I need to speak up more than I have in the past. The documentary touches a little on my own mental health journey. I realise I have sat on a lot of my emotional issues in the past and that was bad for me. I have a developed keen self-awareness where I know when I don’t feel well and I talk to my closest friends and/or my husband. That helps and then we figure a way forward. I also learned to look out for those close to me. Be more of a friend to my friends and help them wherever I can.”
WOTL: There must be actions we can take to effectively change our position. A way that makes a way for black women’s mental healing? Marverine offers ways that institutions can make amends.
MC: “Cultural sensitivity is something I discuss in the documentary. NHS Trusts, GPs, and psychotherapists need to listen to black women with mental illness so that their stories and experiences can be heard (not dismissed) and then fed back into statutory services. That way those services can be improved.”
WOTL: We end our interview with Marverine by asking her about her next career ventures.
MC: “My media career spans a quarter of a century. I never thought as a teenager I’d still be working in this industry 25 years later. In my last 15 years as a Broadcaster and a Journalist, I’ve achieved a lot and I’ve had a relatively satisfying career. However, I am changing lanes somewhat to become an academic. I’ve just been appointed Course Director of a new Journalism degree at Birmingham City University. I’ll be teaching the next generations of journalists to tell truths I was never able to tell. It’s an exciting prospect! I can’t wait for those new challenges, and to get started on my doctorate.”
Black Girls Don’t Cry will be aired on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 20thJuly 2018 from 11am.
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Marverine Cole: @TVMarv www.marverinecole.co.uk
Made in Manchester: @MIMProductions
BBC Radio 4: @BBCRadio4
Birmingham City University: @BCU_Global